Christin Strawbridge is a born and raised Lakelander and was nurtured by our local educational institutions from elementary school to college. She attended Florida Southern College and graduated from Southeastern University with a degree in Business Management.
Christin’s family taught her the value of hard work, consistency, and the importance of being plugged into the community. Starting at age 14, she worked various jobs before interning for the Lakeland Economic Development Council’s Summer Leadership Program. This program connected her with other young professionals and gave her the opportunity to learn about the “behind-the-scenes” happenings here in Lakeland. Her key takeaway from this experience was the value of putting down roots in a community to have a greater impact. This idea changed her outlook on staying put and pursuing her professional goals here in Lakeland.
Christin began working at Catapult in 2018 as a Project Manager, which meant she was “managing projects” ranging from cleaning up after meetings to running events and implementing back-end systems. Over the years, she was promoted to Membership Director and now serves the organization as President. Join me as we talk with Christin about how her belief in an interdependent community has shaped her leadership style.
In September 2021, you became President of Catapult, Inc. What essential leadership qualities had you demonstrated that opened this door for you?
When I started at Catapult as a project manager, there was no clear path for promotions or upward growth because we were such a small and relatively flat organization. I had a passion for the organization, and I showed up every day trying to think of new ways to answer the question – What can I do to make Catapult and the people who work here great?
For the first few years, that meant early mornings, late nights, and lots of behind-the-scenes work—work that is necessary, not glamorous. I was driven by Catapult’s mission and felt honored to be a small part of the organization’s success. I continued to grow more and more enthusiastic about what Catapult was doing in the community and was willing to take on any new opportunity that allowed me to contribute in bigger and more meaningful ways. My faithfulness to Catapult’s vision and my willingness to take on any project, no matter how menial, opened doors for me and positioned me to take on the role of President.
As you considered this new leadership opportunity, did you have any hesitation about your readiness for the role?
I absolutely had hesitation about my readiness for this role. Even now, I have doubts from time to time, but I am the product of an interdependent community. There have been so many people who have advocated for me as I settled into this new role. I’ve learned to trust my community and to be vulnerable with them when I have questions, or I’m trying something new. From local leaders bringing me into important conversations to the Catapult members chasing their dreams and allowing us to collaborate with them as they build their business – with each interaction, I’m learning more about how to thrive as a leader.
In what ways do you feel you have grown the most over the past twelve months as a first-time executive-level leader?
There have been many opportunities for growth in the last year. My natural tendency is to observe situations, take ample time to process the information gathered, and then formulate my action plan. This year has required me to voice my observations quickly and seek feedback instead of waiting for the perfect solution. Having an interdependent community where I can throw out ideas – good or bad – get feedback, and make a decision, has allowed us to progress more quickly as an organization.
It’s also been a mindset shift to go from following someone else’s vision to helping create and lead the organizational vision. This requires a different way of thinking. It’s been fun and freeing to spend time imagining what Catapult and our entrepreneurs can accomplish over the next five to ten years as both Lakeland and Florida continue to experience rapid growth.
What are some of the ways you hope that Catapult will continue to make a difference in our community?
Our associate director at Catapult has a quote that I love – “I just want to be a footnote in somebody’s story. I don’t need to be the main character but what can I do that gets me a footnote in their story?” At Catapult, we are constantly considering how we can be a footnote in the amazing story that is Lakeland and Central Florida. How can we come alongside the innovators, dreamers, and doers to move our city toward a better future?
We have outstanding small to mid-size businesses that launch out of Catapult and create “third places” – home being the first place, work being the second place, and community gathering spaces like cafes, bookstores, and parks being the “third place” – for all our community to enjoy. These places are the building blocks of our community and what makes a city like Lakeland a hometown, not just a town. Catapult is also nurturing new and innovative high-growth businesses. We have a cohort of this type of business that will have their headquarters in Lakeland and bring new ideas and enthusiasm to our area while creating exciting local jobs for our community.
What sense of purpose guides you in your life and work?
When I was growing up, our family mission statement was that we would love God and love others by doing as much good as we can for as many people as we can for as long as we can. This philosophy creates the interdependent community that is a guiding principle in my life. Lakeland is my home. It’s where I grew up and where I have chosen to stay. I’ve been given the unique opportunity to influence change and have an impact on the community that has given me so much. I intend to leverage my talents to make Lakeland a better place for everyone who lives here.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Emily Rogers, Founder & CEO of Emily Rogers Consulting + Coaching, is an executive coach, team coach and keynote speaker. She strategically advises and supports individuals and organizations in growing and realizing their full potential in purposeful and balanced ways. You can connect with her at emilyrogers.com.Want to strengthen your capacity to lead with excellence and grow with purpose? Consider enrolling in Emily’s Leadership Development Programs.